I have finally managed to stop smoking permanently after being a smoker for 13 years (been smoke free since 25th Dec 2013). Looking back with some super simplification, there’s really only 3 steps to change your status to Non-Smoker permanently.
Before we dive into it; there’s 1 important principle:
Smoking is not all physiological rather than psychological. Withdrawal effects are mostly overrated to a level that repelled people from thinking it’s possible to quit. Research indicates that only 72 hours required for the nicotine to completely leave your blood stream. That point and beyond? It’s habit changing.
Now we got that covered, let’s go!
STEP 1: KNOWING YOUR ‘WHY’
This is the most difficult step because it need to be coming deeply from your inner self. If you are trying to stop mainly due to other people’s nagging – it won’t stick.
Let me illustrate this.
For the longest time, when my finance was really bad; thanks to a great human invention called credit cards – I thought the reason ‘why’ I need to stop smoking was to save that RM150 that I spent monthly. Sure there are health & religion reasons, but I don’t and I can’t relate to that. The good news? I’m discovering I hate losing money so I stopped smoking for 2 months until my finance was back in order.
Here’s when I lost my ‘WHY’ and relapsed.
It showed that although I wanted to stop, my pull factor towards achieving it was not strong enough to make it permanent. But it’s OK, I am not overly concerned with that failure. Fortunately, the fateful day when I realized my true ‘why’ happened not long after that.
While walking down from my office over to lunch one day I saw a colleague at my office smoking profusely. This is a normal thing that we smokers tend to do in time of hustle. This is when we just need to get this life-saving breath of air before continuing to anything urgently. In this instance I got an epiphany: this lucky guy felt HE NEED to go down and have a quick smoke before he can get back to his work or meeting which I’m sure is very important (because he can’t be doing it fast enough).
Yes, time is gold – ‘but I just need to have this one puff’.
That’s a bad way to unconsciously depending on something. This situation made me reflected on myself, and I felt I was not free – as in a cage. Looking at this angle, it suddenly angers me because FREEDOM ranked highly in my values.
Knowing clearly ‘WHY’ we need to stop smoking, one that really really resonates within you gave the extra push that you can rely on for a lasting change.
STEP 2: ANALYZE CUES AND REWARDS
Charless Duhigg wrote about this in his now famous book, The Power of Habits.
Smoking, especially for someone whom had smoked as long as I am, is a deeply ingrained habit. What we have learned; to combat these persistent habit, we substitute, NOT resist it. Resisting something is hard. It requires tremendous willpower. As opposed to that your brain continue to work in less strain if we substitute, meaning we keep the same ques and rewards but with different action.
KEEP THE CUE
KEEP THE REWARD
SUBSTITUTE THE ROUTINE
Cues are triggers. They can be categorized into any time of day, people, sequence of events that happen and any sensory/feeling that caused your basal ganglia (part of your brain aka habit center) to execute the program (in our case, the routine act of smoking) without fail. If these triggers are left without execution of the habit, we felt intense pangs and cravings.
See my cues here to see how varied they are, followed by the category of the cues:
- First thing in the morning : TIME OF DAY
- Arriving at office : SEQUENCE OF EVENT/SEEING MY FRIEND WHO SMOKED
- Problems, problems, problems : FEELING DEPRESSED
- Arguments with spouse : FEELING DEPRESSED
- Illusion of free time : FEELING BORED
- Going for offshore visit : SEQUENCE OF EVENT/FEELING BORED
- Toilet time (I know it’s gross) : SEQUENCE OF EVENT
- Driving : SEQUENCE OF EVENT
- 12pm : TIME OF DAY
- Eating : SEQUENCE OF EVENT
Armed with this information, you are half-way to the battle. It is like having a map to otherwise complex metropolitan full of people speaking alien language.
What about rewards?
It’s the satisfactory feelings that you would be having after smoking. Rewards are largely due to dopamine, a happy hormone that keep you hooked for more, anytime your cues are triggered.
Understand your triggers, each of them.
STEP 3: PLAN & EXECUTE
This is where we put this down and wrap the learning we find in step 1 and 2. Once we get a glimpse of what would be your ‘why’ – which doesn’t have to be right at your first try, because it IS a journey. You will fail, but fail with dignity and try again with different ‘whys’. For now, we need to write whatever we think is our ‘why’ into our journal. It should be accessible anytime we need some reminder and I called it ‘a passionate plea to myself’.
This is my passionate plea to myself:
When I looked @ people who smoked, I felt sad that they’re not free. At the cars and downstairs people (just) need to smoke. Bau busuk. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Notice that I put the things I don’t like about smoking; the lack of freedom and bad smell. I wrote this the day I saw my smoking friend at step 1, and I put this in my Iphone note and journal. Whenever I felt like smoking, I take a look at this simple sentences and truthfully, when my ‘why’ and smoking compared, smoking lost it appeal. After talking to few people after writing this, I got a lot of responses that finding your why is extremely difficult. Might worth a subject on it’s own, later.
Next, let’s pick a substitute habits for each of our cues. This substitute habits need to be something we like or at least satisfying to ourselves. For instance, having a watermelon juice, reading (for bookworms), running (for fitness freaks), or heck, even roti canai with tandoori chicken if you have to. The point here is to divert smoking to something else. We don’t want to be caught pants down – arriving at cues but not prepared with the substitutes. Hence, write it down in your journal also.
This is my overall substitute plans for the triggers I listed in Step 2. You can use this too!
- First thing in the morning – Drink Lemon Juice
- Arriving at office – Drink Coffee (which gradually been removed from my diet as well)
- Problems, problems, problems – Eat anything
- Arguments with spouse – Listening to Tres Empre/Rich Roll podcast (this is weird)
- Illusion of free time – Duolingo
- Going for offshore visit – Reading my favourite book
- Toilet time (I know it’s gross) – Duolingo
- Driving – Mint Clorets
- 12pm – Brush my teeth, with Listerine (put this at the office)
- Eating – Brush my teeth, with Listerine (put this at the office)
When we are done writing these, we’re now ready for battle.
Decide now that you will never had a single puff ever and envision a better life without cigarette. At this point, support from our surroundings are important, we will need to talk to anyone who had done this and track every milestone we had achieved (1 day, 1 week, 1 month and beyond) and don’t forget to celebrate it with your love ones.
These steps works and I swear by it. Those are simple but I admit they are not easy. However if your why are deep enough, coupled with good preparation, the journey to Non-Smoker status had more chance for success.
Good luck in your battle!
Above are derived from script of a 15 mins talk on our Dept Engagement Session on early Feb. The largest crowd I need to talk to, thus far. I was thrilled and hopefully can spark a conversation around Stop Smoking with my peers, and eventually to start considering the possibility of becoming Non-Smoker.